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Reviews by The Year Is Yesterday

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Death off the Cuff, by Simon Christiansen

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Floundering was never this fun, November 28, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
Death Off The Cuff offers an intriguing premise: a famous detective, you've gathered all the suspects for that all-important scene in which you will reveal the true identity of the murderer. The only problem is that you haven't the first clue who that might be. In order to attempt to trick the culprit into a confession, you begin to spout off about whatever's at hand, using the command "talk about" for the majority of interactions, although examine and a few other verbs play a role. You can only talk about things that are visible in the room around you, a clever method of conflating the player with the PC, who is of course casting around desperately for any topic that might yield a confession. Nor is that the only way in which the player and the PC think alike: since neither of you know what you're doing, you'll spend most of the game suggesting random or arbitrary topics of conversation in the hopes that something sticks. The result is impressive in terms of putting you in the shoes of the detective; however, it's too arbitrary to be consistently enjoyable. The limitations on action, and the one-room nature of the game, keep things simple enough for the story to unfold tightly, and there are more than a few twists and turns. Typing "help" at any point will provide a hint on what to do next, and if you get fed up you can always accuse the wrong person. In all, a brief, linear diversion that's slightly more clever than it is fun.

Hunter, in Darkness, by Andrew Plotkin

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
damp, dark, dank, and dangerous..., November 28, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
I died more times than I can count playing Hunter, in Darkness, but I loved every second of it. In a masochistic sort of way, perhaps. This is one of the most claustrophobic, terror-inducing titles I've encountered - an achievement, considering it's based on (Spoiler - click to show)Hunt The Wumpus. The puzzles all come logically, and even better, the various deaths arrive with a brutal, no-nonsense finality that encourages you to try a different tack, rather than frustrating you with that feeling of being so close and so far. This is a serious story, not of adventure, but of survival, unsympathetic and unadulterated.

Works of Fiction, by FibreTigre

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Clever concept, poor execution, November 28, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
In Works of Fiction, you play as a shady publisher who drinks a drug cocktail he probably shouldn't have and begins experiencing multiple realities simultaneously. The way this plays out on-screen is certainly innovative: the text begins branching into more and more columns; performing actions in "reality" will have corresponding effects in every other universe open to you. This opens the way for some clever puzzles, and it's worth a play just to see this device in action.

Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn't live up to its premise. Much of it can be explained away by the fact that English isn't the author's first language: phrasing and spelling range from awkward to nearly incomprehensible. This in itself spoils a lot of the game's one-liners and makes a few puzzles needlessly difficult. However, there's more than just a language gap here. Navigation is difficult, as most rooms descriptions don't list exits. There's also at least one non-standard verb; (Spoiler - click to show)although the game teaches it to you when you'll first need it, it crops up several more times, with just enough space in between that you may have forgotten about its existence. There are also times when something seems like a puzzle, but in fact is simply window dressing; later in the game you'll move the story forward by increasingly arbitrary actions, while meaningful ones are ignored. In all, this results in a hideously unbalanced experience: some puzzles are laughably easy, whereas others seem to require psychic abilities. And interacting with items is always a mixed bag: half of the things described in the text don't actually exist in play.

And then there's the overall tone of the game. The split-worlds thing was cool, but about halfway through it degenerates into a meaningless series of pop-culture references, pointless jokes about Orson Welles and David Lynch, and music and images that seem to exist for no reason other than to increase the size of the download. Reading in another review that the author is one of the stars of the French IF scene, and waiting upwards of fifteen minutes for the download to complete, I expected, at worst, a flawed masterpiece. What I got instead was a smart premise that falls apart halfway through in favor of poorly-designed puzzles and a series of unfunny in-jokes. I can only conclude that JB's IF is best savored not in translation.

Dual Transform, by Andrew Plotkin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Archetypal Odyssey, November 27, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
As the description says, Dual Transform takes place in one room and in many. There is only one carryable object, and there are legion. Without moving from place to place, you shift the room around you by invoking certain archetypes, such as "pressure" or "heat." The strength of the writing, then, rests less on the story than on the degree to which every element of the room encapsulates the archetype from which it was derived. This is pulled off, to my mind, to varying degrees of success. What's more successful is the vitality and dynamism present within the various spaces invoked: some crackle with energy, others suggest oppression or dread, others are harder to pin down. The writing, however, is secondary here to the puzzles, which hinge on taking advantage of the symmetry between the room in its various forms: what changes, and what stays the same. They are mostly simple, but pleasing to the brain. The one flaw here is that pesky "To Be Continued" message at the end...

Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
What else is there to tell?, November 27, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
Spider and Web is all about trial and error. Yet it somehow manages to make those trials and errors fun, intriguing, and occasionally illuminating. A too heavy-handed description of the story, or even the gameplay, would ruin the several "a-ha!" moments that Plotkin has set up for you. Play for a few minutes and you'll see the first. The second is nested much deeper.... While the game provides enough hints to keep things moving along, I was occasionally overwhelmed by the multitude of items in my possession, and the occasionally maze-like layout of the setting. However, there's a cognitively dissonant moment near the end - you'll know it when you see it - that could only be pulled off in IF, and only by somebody like Plotkin. It's when - no, I'll never tell.

9:05, by Adam Cadre

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
An argument for minimalism, November 27, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
The value of 9:05 is in its perfectly spare prose.

Delightful Wallpaper, by Andrew Plotkin ('Edgar O. Weyrd')

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
The wallpaper has promise..., November 27, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
This is an exceedingly difficult game to review. The writing is wryly Victorian and often amusing, the mechanics are quite transgressive, and the "story" is ambiguous enough to allow for several satisfying interpretations. You can't die, but it's fiendishly difficult at times, while at others it's ethereally simple. Despite the fact that I despise the first half of it, the second is brilliant enough that I can't bear to rate it below four stars.

One of the conceits of Wallpaper is that the setting reacts to your presence: passageways will open or close depending on your movements. This is not very friendly for somebody like me, who can barely keep track of the relative position of moderately complex rooms when everything's standing still. And, for reasons that will hopefully become clear as you play, nearly all non-movement verbs other than examine have been disabled, so if you don't like mazes you ought to go home now. Or you could, like me, take advantage of the walkthrough to get through this obnoxious section: after spending a frustrating half-hour trying to solve it on my own, I eventually followed the walkthrough to the letter, barely paying attention to room descriptions.

If you do manage to make it to Wallpaper's second half, you'll be rewarded by one of the most fantastically innovative chunks of gameplay IF has produced. I won't spoil anything, but you'll be dealing with potentialities and motivations rather than physical objects, and the puzzles are simultaneously mind-bending and logical, sadistic and satisfying. If you get stuck in either section, the command "read notes" will help; here, it provides some rather illuminating hints, both to the puzzles at hand and the larger story. Helping everything fall into place is an unrivaled joy.

While I can't support the migraine-inducing maze, I can say this: Delightful Wallpaper is the most paradigm-shifting half of an IF I've yet encountered.

Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home, by Andrew Plotkin

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Go Forth, November 27, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
This is but one of the plethora of non-standard commands the game recognizes, and it is this expansive vocabulary that serves as its greatest strength.

When play begins, you set off in an interstellar sailing vessel, bound for mystery and intrigue and unmapped, boundless space. From the get-go, the parser gently encourages you to utilize nautical phrases from "weigh anchor" or "drop anchor" to "unfurl sails." This subtly but effectively enhances immersion: it encourages you to think like the PC, turning this fantastical vessel into something you comfortably command rather than another strange machine. It also allows for some interesting navigation: you are at the mercy of the solar winds, turning movement itself into a constantly-shifting puzzle. Often, your only option will be to adjust the rigging and hope for the best.

The writing, as usual for Plotkin, is superb, and the cosmic landscape is full of mystery and alien beauty. Without spoiling too much, the end-game sequence (Spoiler - click to show)reminded me a bit of Old Man and the Sea, but it feels appropriate and melancholic. Since you are constantly moving forward, descriptions will change with every turn, while remaining similar enough to let you know you haven't left the "room." Puzzles are few and mostly simple, navigation is overwhelmingly linear, and the story is brief, but what's here blazes with the same sense of adventure and discovery that we felt playing pirates as kids.

The Day I stabbed Stalin, by Marius Müller

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A hasty IF saved by some clever humor, November 26, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
Although this is apparently the third game in a series, it's my introduction to the saga of Alex and Paul, and to the author's work as a whole. Based on what I've seen here, I'll probably be checking out more at some point in the future.

This was written for a Speed IF comp, so room descriptions and implementation tend toward the simplistic. To save time, everything seems to have been nailed down, so you'll be seeing a lot of odd messages like this one:

>take purses
That's fixed in place.

There are also some spelling and punctuation issues, including one in the intro paragraph. The most notable is the dropped apostrophe for things belonging to Paul: "Pauls garden," "Pauls pool," etc. Thankfully, these are not egregious enough to distract from either gameplay or story.

Speaking of story, this title relies heavily on humor. Luckily for us, most of it is genuinely funny. Some of it is meta-humor: for instance, the speakers in the kitchen were playing "Custom Library Messages" by David Fisher when I first entered. There's an object in the same room described as "(unimplemented) cheese," the description of which is "You can't see any such thing. (See? I told you so.)" Unfortunately, other actions result in that ubiquitous fixed-in-place message, spoiling the humor somewhat. There's also plenty of humor related to the world these characters inhabit: aliens have invaded, apparently recently, so everything has been replaced by AlienTech (tm) technology. There are also a group of Dagon cultists who live next door, and a sleeping pirate.

The story does deal with same-sex relationships, which runs the risk of offending people who might be offended by that sort of thing. I was nervous, when I first started, that I was going to be treated to a bunch of jokes along the lines of "gay people are funny lol." Thankfully, Alex and Paul are charming as a couple, if a little sketched out, and Paul's uncle, who follows the PC around making homophobic remarks, is hilariously unlikeable. A few examples of his dialogue (the second shows some of the sloppy writing, but this is about as bad as that gets):

"Alex, me boy! Didn't know I had to keep my back to the wall at this party! Haw! Haw!" He slaps you on the shoulder. "Ha ha, just kidding! I have nothing against queers personally!"

"You know how we could solve this finanical crisis? Just disallow women to work! They're stealing hard working men's job worse then foreigners."

In all, the humor is enough to carry this title as a whole, and gameplay is surprisingly robust for a Speed IF. I did run into a brick wall, literally, when I found that certain items it seemed that I needed for a puzzle couldn't be transported over the wall to Paul's garden or into his swimming pool (I needed two hands to climb or swim). Hopefully a walkthrough or hint system will be implemented later on, because I'm looking forward to seeing how this clever tale concludes.

Suicide, by Dan Doyle III

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Neither dark nor humorous, November 26, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)
First off, I should note that it's clear that, implementation-wise, the author knows his stuff. The help file is extensive, the endings are profuse and various, and he's clearly taken time to allow for multiple ways of achieving - or avoiding - the goal. The quality of the writing is also, from a technical perspective, high: descriptions are concise and occasionally colorful, and there are few if any errors or typos, showing that a high level of care and polish went into this title.

Unfortunately, the issue that I (and many others, judging from the mixed reviews) encountered concerns the premise itself, or rather, the tone the work adopts toward its subject matter. "About the story" promises "elements of dark humor," but I found nothing in my various interactions particularly dark or humorous. This may just be a matter of taste, but let it be said that, although I have some personal experience with the subject matter, I'm no prude. I wouldn't have minded some hilarity, even if it were in ill taste. What I got, instead, was after-school-special material, shallow melodrama.

The author's notes in the help menu may shed some light on this. He says that it originally started as a joke, replacing "You have died" with "You have survived." But somewhere along the way, whether at the coaxing of testers who couldn't stomach the subject matter or of his own volition, he decided that "it wasn't a joking matter." So we've essentially got the setup for a joke, but halfway through it becomes a moralizing tale, and it fails to leave an impression on either count. The PC's motivations for committing suicide are so banal it's almost painful, and the writing encapsulates none of the real angst of depression.

I'll conclude by reiterating what I said at the beginning: as a game, this is nicely polished and shows great care. It's entirely possible to appreciate on those merits alone; it's also possible the ambivalent tone will strike a chord with you that it failed to with me. However, I can't help feeling that the author, for fear of offending people or trivializing a serious issue, held back at crucial moments, resulting in a story that doesn't live up to its implementation.


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